Advent Calendars: Count Down to Christmas

The first of December is the start of the Advent season and at our house the bringing forth of the annual advent calendar.  Advent means “coming”. The idea is simple: Count down the days in December leading up to Christmas Eve. Advent Calendars come from Germany where Christians marked doors with chalk and later created special calendars to count the days to Christmas.

When I was little, we had two Advent Calendars, one for me and one for my older sister.  They were simple cardboard with pictures covered by little flaps. Each flap had a number, 1 to 25, marking the days until Christmas.  My mother kept the same two calendars for many years and just switched them up.  I’m not sure if that was because she was thrifty or because we needed to save the money.  As a kid I always felt we had plenty of funds, but maybe not.  My dad was a small businessman, selling ladies shoes in a small Wyoming town.  While we lived comfortably, we certainly weren’t wealthy. Really, the repeat calendars were great because they served the purpose of starting holiday festivities early.

IMG_0133Nowadays, I get new calendars for my kids and my husband from Trader Joe’s.  They are less than $2,  filled with little pieces of chocolate and help mark the season and remind my family that I am the keeper of the family traditions.  My husband eats all of the little candies at once.  My son misplaces the calendar, remembers the calendar half way into January and gets a late Christmas treat.  My daughter who is fastidious opens each box on the appropriate day and has 25 days of Christmas treats.

The variety of calendars is fascinating.  There are basic picture calendars like I grew up with, legos, Hershey Kisses, beauty boxes, and varieties of tea. For those who want to celebrate the Yule Tide season daily, there are calendars with little bottles of whisky, wine and beer. For families who want to build a regular advent tradition there are expensive wooden calendars and hand sewn varieties which can be displayed prominently and refilled with treats and surprises every year.

If you don’t have an advent calendar by now it’s probably a little late to find one.  But I would recommend putting on your shopping list for October/early November 2020.  You can vote for President and then buy a calendar to hopefully celebrate ushering in a new administration.

25 Years of Christmas Memories

My son, Scott’s, first Christmas, we had a professional picture taken at JC Penney’s in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  He sat on a gaily wrapped package, dressed in a little red vest, bow tie, and dress slacks.  His outfit is complete with moon boots, a Wyoming staple. He wore those boots every day his first winter walking.

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Scott’s first Christmas, 1994

Kayla, my adopted daughter from China, arrived at our Boise house in the spring 2000.  She was 8 months old.  When her first Christmas rolled around, it was easy to have her join Scott in the Penney’s photo studio for our annual Christmas photo.  The photo studio in Boise was much fancier than Cheyenne.  In Cheyenne, there was a camera set up in front of a tree background in the open store.  In Boise, there was a separate studio where 4  minions snapped pictures as a steady stream of children dressed in party clothes paraded through.  The children marched up on a stage and sat on small boxes.  Parents could choose from a variety of backdrops.

Our most exciting year, Scott and Kayla were sitting on the little stage and suddenly disappeared behind the backdrop.  Apparently, the little present had held one too many children and just gave out.  As the mom, standing behind the camera I was stunned.  The backdrop flopped back down but my kids were nowhere to be seen.  They were on the floor behind the little stage, unhurt.  This incident required me to sign a whole series of reports. I received several calls from Penney’s insurance to make sure that no damage had begotten my children.

When we had Scott’s first picture taken, I had a friend who suggested we send out the picture as our Christmas card.  Hard to believe but 25 years ago this was actually an innovative card.  Christmas cards to relatives and friends were still the “in” thing.  This same friend said she had a friend who had sent pictures for 18 years than duplicated all the previous cards when the child graduated from high school.  This crafty friend sent relatives a photo album of all the Christmas pictures. When I started on the Christmas photo project, I planned to assemble them in the same manner.  Sadly, that time has come and gone.  Scott has graduated from high school, college and now works in Seattle.  Kayla graduated from high school two years ago and is at Montana State University in Bozeman.

In recent years, I debate whether to print cards.  After all, everyone sees what you are up to on Facebook.  My Christmas list has drastically reduced as family members and friends pass or move and don’t provide forwarding addresses.

Today, I bought my Christmas stamps.  The purchase was an act of intention committing me to printing 2019 cards.   The digital world makes it so much easier.  If we aren’t together for a picture, I can go online, pick out a frame with individual shots and make it look like we are at least in touch with each other.  This year we were all together.  We went to Hawaii in May and we spent Thanksgiving together in Buffalo, Wyoming.  My husband, Pete, and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a trip on the inner passage of Alaska by ferry. We have lots of memories to share.

Now I have to brave the crowds at Costco to pick up the cards. Why bother in the current cyber world?  I decided to continue the tradition one more year because 25 years of family Christmas photos is really a lovely gift to my husband and me.

Thanksgiving

turkey dinnerWe are headed to Buffalo, Wyoming for Thanksgiving this year.  Our trek is elaborate.  We start out on Tuesday and head to Bozeman, Montana.  We spend the night in Bozeman and pick up our daughter, Kayla, who is a sophomore at Montana State University.  We also drop off her snow tires.

Then we soldier on to Billings where we stay in a suite that has a 24-hour airport shuttle.  This is an important feature because our son, Scott, is flying in from Seattle and arrives at midnight when most things in Billings are closed.  Assuming everything goes as planed, he arrives at our room about 12:30 am while the rest of us continue snoozing peacefully with visions of turkey drifting through our heads.

If Billings goes anything like last year, we will be running around late looking for tofu turkey.  Scott is a vegetarian and we left our specially bought vegan plunder at home.  We raced in the only vegetarian market in Billings just at closing (8 pm) and bought a supply of frozen veggie turkeys.  Scott landed on time but crashed through the dark room waking everyone up.  But who am I to complain?  He made the sojourn from Seattle after work on a cigar plane (one seat on each side) to a small airport, landing in the middle of the night, just to join the family.

We get up on Thanksgiving day and drive two and half hours to Buffalo, Wyoming.  The town is about 4,500 people;  about half of whom are Koziseks. The Koziseks have manned the sheriff’s office and police force for years. The next generation is now serving.  There is such a crowd that last year we had dinner in the basement of the Baptist Church.  We didn’t fit in a house.  A large number of the family were left out because my nephew’s wife was entertaining her extended family at their mini-ranch.  We dropped by for a visit and couldn’t get in the door so many people were in attendance. The thought of all of us together in Buffalo is mind boggling.  My husband’s family are all avid hunters and fishers and believe in standing for the flag at football games.  We always have lots to talk about except politics.

My husband, Pete, lost his younger brother who lived in California last spring.  Our Thanksgiving group will be slightly smaller and a lot sadder this year.  The California brother was the big arranger of family reunions and his favorite place was Disney Land.  We have toured the Magic Kingdom on a number of occasions in a Kozisek crowd.  My husband used to laughingly refer to his California brother’s family as the “Disney Nazi’s” because we did Disney from sunrise to fireworks every day.  I fondly remember the trips because Kayla was little and got passed around a lot. I got a break from child care and the pleasure of adult company.disneyland

Over the years, what I have found most remarkable about all these visits is the goodwill.  We are very different people but at Thanksgiving and in Disney Land we seem to be able to find common ground.  I have learned that love and gratitude grow with age.  In the Kozisek family, there is always plenty of both to go around.

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Headwinds and Tailwinds

I have always loved bicycles.  The first time I got on a tricycle I experienced extreme joy.   As a toddler pedaling as fast as I could away from my parents, I intuitively learned the concepts “ecstasy” and “freedom”, even though I couldn’t pronounce either word.

As I have aged, I have moved to an electric bike.  I can bike great distances, up high inclines at a fast pace.  I experience great joy passing a superb rider on my e-bike as he/she toils away in their lycra up the steep hill to our home. Right now, I can’t bike at all because of my foot surgery.  I hope to find myself back on my e-bike this spring.

One of the things I like most about biking is the freedom to experience the outdoor world; the sounds, the smells, the wind.  Bikers are familiar with headwinds and tailwinds.  When you have a headwind, the effort is much harder.  The wind is entirely outside you control.  You just have to lean in and put more pedal to metal.  Tailwinds, of course, make your bike ride a breeze, causing you to speed ahead with little effort.

All of us face both metaphorical head and tail winds in our lives.  Interestingly, research shows that people viewing the lives of others tend to focus on the tailwinds the other person has experienced.   While living our lives, we tend to focus on the headwinds.  We get up in the morning and prepare to battle whatever outside forces may impede our way.

We seldom rise and give gratitude for our tailwinds.  We take our life experiences that have given us our current status for granted.  All of us living in America, start farther ahead  than many third world nations. For example, we expect to have clean drinking water.  We debate public education but we expect that free public education be provided. We complain about taxes but we want roads to drive on and our trash hauled away.  Just by being born in America, we have been given a huge tailwind compared to most of the world.

I think too frequently as a nation we forget our tailwinds and focus on our headwinds.  America has lot’s of problems; homelessness, food shortages, racism, aging infra-structure, climate change, limited access to health care for some populations.  The list of headwinds goes on and on.  But because we have such strong tailwinds, we have the ability if we choose to press back and solve these problems.  The real issue is, who is willing? Pushing into headwinds, takes strength and endurance and (as geese know) a group effort.  Our problems are solvable if we choose to lean in.

When I was a little kid, I loved to ride my tricycle down the driveway at my grandmother’s with my feet up in the air.  The joy of the tailwind is hard to describe.  But I knew that ride down meant I had to drag the trike back up the hill.  Have we forgotten, that the joy of living in a Democracy requires that we have to put in the work to keep it whole?

Casting About

I have been in a non-weight bearing cast since August 15, almost 12 weeks.  In order to get around, I have a rented scooter.  We have purchased a ramp from our attached garage.  We rented a huge ramp so I could spend time outside while the weather was pleasant.  We also had to purchase a special seat for our shower, a biking machine which I use for my arms to do aerobics regularly, hand weights for strength exercises and a walker for close quarters.  I haven’t used the walker much because I have to hop on it.  Assuming the x-rays look good, I get rid of the cast on Thursday.  The prognosis from there is still unclear.  I may be back in a walking book, or a brace, or best news of all, paraphrasing the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, “Off with the cast!” and into a regular shoe.

I have learned a number of things while scooting around:

  1. Things will not go as expected.  The doctor told me that since this surgery was on my left foot I could drive.  I had images of continuing my coffee and lunches out with friends.  When I picked up the scooter, I realized that wasn’t going to happen.  I couldn’t stay off my left foot and lift the scooter.  I couldn’t expect my friends who are my age to deal with the scooter either.  So I can drive but I can’t get out of the car.  My visions of friendly encounters had to be readjusted to inviting friends to my house. Here how those invitations went, “Would you like to come visit me and bring the food and drinks?”  One of my long term friends from my Wyoming days spent a week helping me out when I first got out of the hospital and after Pete went back to work.  A number of my Boise friends were kind enough to come by with treats. These friends are a real blessing.
  2. People say a place is accessible and it really isn’t. I have gotten in numerous restrooms with my scooter and not been able to open the heavy door to get out.  Fortunately, either my husband has come to my rescue or someone is coming in the door and will hold it for me.  Most doors into buildings are too heavy for me to open on my own and very few doors have push button access openings.  I was on a tour with City Club at a supposedly accessible facility.  Rather than extending my hand, I allowed the elevator door to hit the wheel of my scooter tire while I was exiting. I was using my hands to direct the scooter over the elevator gap. The elevator didn’t stop and knocked my scooter and me over. Once on its side, the scooter did eventually wedge the door open.  I was bruised from the experience.
  3. I am capable of entertaining myself. I spent a great deal more time by myself over the past 3 months than I ever have. As long as I could get outside, however, I enjoyed reading the paper and having a cup of coffee on the front porch in the mornings. I could spend an entire afternoon out back streaming videos, reading books and sleeping on our comfortable wicker furniture.  Once the weather turned cold, I have found I am much grumpier.  I, for one, took having a great porch, patio, and yard at my house for granted.  I now understand why seniors flock to warm climates. Getting out in the sun is healing and important to one’s mental health.
  4. People with good intentions ask way too many questions. I just came from lunch where someone I didn’t know wanted to know what happened to me.  “Was it an accident?” No.  “What type of surgery?” Complicated, not regularly done on most people. It was suppose to take six hours and turned out taking eight.  I have many screws in my foot and I had a tendon removed. “What caused it?”  Running when I was younger, flat feet and old age.  I think people want to be helpful and acknowledge that they can see you’ve had some major life experience.  But a simple, “How are you doing?” is really all that is needed.  Asking further questions seems invasive and is annoying, not comforting.
  5. Health care is expensive. We have excellent insurance because my husband is still working.  We also both have Medicare.  We are the few people in America with public and private insurance. We had to personally pay for the ramps, walkers, bathing equipment and our deductible is in the thousands.  I’m also blessed that we have a large home so I have been able to consistently maneuver the large scooter.  We have a downstairs bedroom and bath.  I heard of someone who crawled up their stairs every day (Good exercise) and someone else who was able to use crutches up and down stairs.  I am not able to use crutches because of balance issues.  I also have weekly cleaning help.  We have paid for me to have a driver at times to get me to meetings and help around the house.  We have also paid for taxis and Uber to get to doctors’ appointments when my husband has not been available to drive.  In other words, much of my positive ability to deal with surgery is a direct result of the fact we have resources.  I’m not sure what other people would do.

I am planning on the x-rays being great.  I am thrilled to be looking forward to taking my cast off this week.   I’m so done with casting about.

Angel, the Cat Left Behind

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Angel, my daughter’s cat

White kitty entered our house from foster care at the Idaho Humane Society (IHS) as a kitten eight years ago.  My daughter’s girl scout troop had gone on a field trip to the animal shelter and a litter of kittens arrived while the troop was there.  The kittens were too young to be adopted.  My daughter set her heart on having Angel that day.  Kayla watched diligently online until Angel came up as old enough to adopt.  We went and got her.  Tip: Never allow your child to go on a field trip to the animal shelter unless you want another pet.

Angel entered our house as a playful, active kitten who had never had a bad experience.  This is to be compared to Satchel, our big gray striped tom cat, who had been found in the wild and we rescued from the IHS full grown.  Satch would always remain somewhat aloof and his own man.  Angel has always been in the midst of everything.  She comes to my daughter by name like a dog and kisses my daughter on the nose.  A trait I find disgusting.  Though it is not allowed, she sits on my daughter’s lap under the table at dinner when I can’t see her tail hanging down.  Unfortunately, my daughter grew up and went away to college last year.  This was a loss to Angel but not as big as one might think because she had Satch.

When Angel arrived, Satch made every effort to ignore her and be bored by her overtures to be friends.  But Angel was persistent attempting to play with him and licking him, curling up next to him.  Until Satch was overcome by Angel’s great love for him. By the time Angel was an adult, Satch and Angel would give each other baths at night at the foot of our bed.  During the night I could hear them racing through the house chasing each other in some random kitty game.

When Satch disappeared several weeks ago (blog: Cat Grief) Angel was devastated. Not only is her owner at college but her best friend in the world is gone.  She is now attempting to make me into her cat friend with limited success because I am not a cat.  She has tried licking me.  Her scaly little pink tongue is scratchy.  I refuse to lick her back.

She lays on me whenever I am sitting which is most of the time because I am in a non-weight bearing cast.  She pushes the rat terrier out from beside me so she can have the best spot.  Her worst behavior is she has decided that the Sheltie, Shani is the lowest on pecking order and should not be allowed near me.  When Shani walks by,  Angel slaps her on the head with her paw.  When we are lying down, if I am petting Shani, Angel moves up my arm until I can’t lift my arm to pet her.  This controlling behavior is all new.  Angel follows me  into our walk in closet and I have to scoot around looking for her under clothes to get her out before I can leave.  I am on a scooter because of my foot so this creeping around the closet is quite tedious.

Angel was always pleasant to me but not my cat.  She preferred Kayla and then Satch to me so spent little time chasing me around the house or sitting on my lap.  But in the absence of her two great loves, she has decided she will have to make do with me.  I’m the third ring on her love list but I’m better than nothing.

Cat Grieving

20160422_150516We lost our big a gray tom cat, Satchel, a few weeks back.  He went outside and never came back.  He wore an electric collar and had stayed in our yard for 13 years.

He started every spring, summer, and fall day the same.  Yowling at the front door until someone let him out.  He would hide in the front porch bushes catching lizards or bask in the morning sun.  Then he would sit on the red bench by the door and shout at the top of his lungs to come in.  He might have a sip of water or something to eat and then he would march to the back door meowing loudly until someone would let him out.

Once in back, he would patrol the yard all afternoon.  In the heat of the day, I could see him though the kitchen window lying under the high grass surveying his Savannah as if he were a lion surveying his territory.  We always got him back in before it was dark.  Then one night a few weeks back, he wasn’t there when I went to get him.  We looked everywhere and searched for days but he has not returned.

He’s been acting a little weird recently.  He had bitten me requiring a trip to the doctor.  He growled at my daughter, Kayla, when she tried to get him in while house sitting.  She said she wouldn’t deal with him anymore. It was her opinion that he was getting old and just wanted to be left alone to live his last few days or months outside.

Since we live in the foothills surrounding Boise, we know when a cat is gone; it is probably not coming back.  Our neighbors were out hiking once and found 17 cat collars in a coyote hole. Once outside the fence, Satch probably became one of the dinners of the many predators who share the hills with us including coyotes, foxes, owls, raccoons, and bobcats.

I have missed our big gray tiger cat.  He was such a character, directing us all with his loud shouting to be let in and out, then lazing around on the couch at night. In the winter, he chose not to go out at all and would frequently lay stretched out on the gas fire hearth for hours.  He was a big cat when he had his front paws stretched out and was lying flat he was almost four feet long.   He had beautiful coloring; big green cat eyes, like the marbles we played with as kids and matching gray/brown strips on his face that I would run my finger along.  They made me wonder how God created such perfect symmetry in nature.

I’ve looked up kittens online and my cleaning team has a worker who is trying to get rid of kittens but we won’t be getting another cat right now.  We’ve always had two cats since I’ve had children (25 years).  When I was single, I had a cat and a dog. It was much easier to handle one pet of each species traveling and housekeeping.

Now with the kids gone and just Pete and I in the house, I have resolved to go back to the one cat and one dog house.  We still have two dogs.  We won’t get rid of either but when I look at them I realize, just like Pete and I, they are getting older. We will be downsizing even if we don’t want to in the next few years. Dogs just don’t have a human life span.

I still have my daughter’s cat, Angel, around the house.  Angel has missed Satch the most.  This blog started as an effort to capture her grief.  But I realized one can’t understand Angel missing Satch without first understanding that Satch lived a big life.  He dominated the dogs, the cats and even the humans directing us to carry out his wishes.  We all understood his needs and wants. He enforced them with a huge unpleasant yowl.

I hope he had a joyous time out in the wild world beyond our yard before something caught up with him.  He was a man of action.  He would not have wanted a slow, belabored death.  Assuming my daughter is right, that he chose to go on his own terms, I wish him the best.  I want him to know he was a great family pet and he is missed.